December 07, 2008

Is Simplicity the Silver Lining?

By Ken Stewart of ChangeForge (Twitter/FriendFeed)

With job losses rising to the highest levels since 1993, an estimated 6.7 percent, or 10.3 million, Americans now find themselves unemployed. In the month of November alone, 533,000 jobs were slashed from payrolls – the worst cuts since 1974. With everyone focused on industry after industry needing government assistance, economists are predicting the unemployment rate to reach a staggering eight percent.

When will it all end?

A more immediate question everyone is asking is, “When will it end?”

The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a committee responsible for maintaining records of the start and finish of each recession, deemed the economy began an official decline in December 2007.

That is little surprise to those hit hardest by this recession. Most complain of business being sluggish, while those interviewing for positions that may still be open are quite openly stating, “It’s a tough job market out there.”

What does it all mean?

Friends of mine have lost their jobs, but are finding ways to continue working though not necessarily in their career field. While out, we see shoppers everywhere, restaurant goers enjoying meals, and lots of traffic on the road. So the signals do not necessarily line up, for me at least?

Are we simply adjusting our expectations back to where they should be? Are we simply – well – simplifying?

With everyone busier than ever, a focus on what is important might already be underway. One Nielsen study suggests:

  • Parents are busier than they were in the past. Many more are single parents, and two-parent families have seen a dramatic increase in women’s participation in the labor force.
  • Total workloads (counting paid jobs and unpaid work at home for both moms and dads) have risen and remain high - parents average up to a 9.5-hour workday every day of the week.
  • Despite more hours on average going into paid work, parents’ time with their children has not decreased over the past several decades, and in fact has risen for married mothers and married fathers, and for single mothers for certain kinds of care.
  • It is not sleep or free time that has been compressed to enable parents both to work more outside the home and to spend more time with their children - it is housework that has been sacrificed.
  • The pattern of increased time spent with children is not only a U.S. phenomenon, but also appears in many countries in Western Europe.

A harsh reality.

It is a harsh reality we live in, with one of the most massive economic “bubbles” bursting in our lifetimes. Whereas the “Dot-Com” bubble mainly impacted the technology sector, this has struck much closer to our homes, and our hearts.

President-elect Obama, promises a stimulus package, but even he predicts things are going to get worse before they get better.

“There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it's likely to get worse before it gets better," Obama warned.

Perhaps this recession serves as a harsh wake-up call, perhaps this nation’s spending habits were not sound, and perhaps we allowed ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security, leaving oversight in the hands of those we thought we could trust.

All of this matters little to friends and family left jobless during this holiday season. Reality is a cruel teacher, often times. While we may all long for a return to simpler times, simplicity may not be had for those trying to cope with how to wrap a lump of coal.

Ken Stewart’s blog,, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. To learn more about Ken, visit his about page. You may also find Ken on FriendFeed, Twitter, and LinkedIn.